Friday, May 31, 2013

Peaceful Borders.

In Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, author Dayna Martin establishes trusting children in their learning choices as a basic tenet of unschooling. The learning going on in her home is primarily passion-driven. I take no issue with this; in fact, I applaud it.  Radical unschooling extends the unschooling educational philosophy to other areas of parenting, including trusting one's child regarding considerations such as food, media, TV, video games, bed times, potty training, etc... This is where the parameters get murky for me; in some cases I see the connection to trust in natural processes, while in others the distinction isn't clear. The main point of radical unschooling, to me, is love, respect, and gentleness toward children. It is peaceful, mindful, intuitive parenting, not a cart blanche of personal freedom.

Suppose, as a Catholic mother, I do not allow my child to view pornography. This might be interpreted as not trusting my child and trying to "control" him by some radical unschoolers. Is radical unschooling, then, to be understood as the complete abnegation of parental authority? In her blog, Dayna distinguishes between radical unschooling and permissive parenting, stressing that these are not one and the same. She advocates guiding children and providing them with relevant information, and believes in hands on parenting and in trusting your inner guidance in raising them. There seems to be room here for an authentic expression of values.

Therefore, if I value moral safety and believe that pornography viewing would harm my child, setting a limit in this area actually promotes true happiness and freedom and is an exercise of the parental vocation given me by God.  Since "limits" is a hot button word in the RU community, let's think outside the box and use a different moniker. I suggest peaceful borders. Think in terms of an enclosed garden, a sanctuary, or if you will, a domestic church. The borders are there not to wall you away from the rest of the world, but to provide protection and a safe haven for contemplation and the building up of qualities such as self-possession and discernment. Here you can listen to your inner voice and connect with Truth.

Can I promote "peaceful borders" and still be a radical unschooler? I can call myself whatever I want, of course. But the primary definition of "radical" would back me up if I did:  of, relating to, or proceeding from a root.  Interesting that we have here a correlating garden image! The garden speaks of fertility, growth, and natural cycles. "Radical" does not have to mean extremism or fanaticism. Radical unschooling implies rootedness. It does not have to be a complete rejection of all tradition or authority. It does not have to mean allowing children to do whatever they want, whenever they want, although that is the free choice some may make. We can pick from the garden of radical unschooling those areas of flexibility that make sense to us, that speak to our hearts, and that are for the good of our children and our families. We can take what we like and leave the rest.  It is okay if some fruit is forbidden.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Life, Unscripted.

One great thing that Dayna Martin addresses in her Radical Unschooling book is that there is no radical unschooling script. First let's consider that sometimes it does help to have a few useful phrases on the tip of one's tongue. In conflict situations in the Montessori classroom, for example, we taught the kids to begin with, "I don't like it when you..."  I felt like I got free assertiveness training along with my teacher education! I found that the same things that worked with young children worked with drunk men in bars. "I don't like it when you (name the offense)," was met with amazement and a cloudy understanding. Oh, women don't like that! Good to know. You could see the wheels turning. But I feel that to be authentic, one shouldn't be a walking, pat response. Using someone else's parenting style or scripted lingo will feel uncomfortable and false to both you and your children.

If unschooling results in a one-size-fits-all method of parenting, it is no better than mainstream patterns of punishment, abuse of authority, coercion, or generic curriculum use. In other words, there should be no "unschooling police", no bossiness about what you absolutely can and cannot do when it comes to unschooling. This would be failing to see the forest for the trees, and it would violate unschooling principles! I have discussed my understanding of unschooling as a method of education that does not separate learning from the rest of life. It is open source learning, not placing limits on learning according to time, place, or persons. Anyone in the child's life can be a teacher. Unschooling follows a child's interests and abilities, custom tailoring the education according to his or her needs.

Radical unschooling seems to have as its basic premise the extension of freedom and trust in education to other areas of life. But does this mean that there can be no limits, no rules, that the child should have everything and anything he wants, when he wants it? I think common sense alone would tell us, no.  Luckily we don't have to rely on common sense as Catholics, though. Original sin means that we have a tendency toward disorder in our desires, though we are, as creations of God, innately good. We must not fail to take either of these truths into consideration. We can also rely upon the particular trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us and our children, rather than some nebulous conception of blind trust.

Catholics do not consider immoral choices acceptable. Our freedom of choice is a freedom within limits, within the parameters of a set of definite values and guidelines established by the Church. And these are set forth for the benefit of all people and for their ultimate happiness, both in heaven and here on earth. So I can agree with Dayna that happiness should be the basic goal of education, but perhaps with a somewhat different slant. Radical unschooling for Catholics could still be possible within these boundaries, allowing for flexibility of rules, bedtimes, chores, food, etc.., which are determined according to a family's unique situation, values and principles, and depending upon such things as a child's age, maturity, personality, etc...

Radical unschooling certainly means respecting children as persons. According to Dayna, it is the path of balance, designed to meet the needs of all family members. It does not over-emphasize the rights and needs of the child. When I reflect upon my Montessori experience, the first school in which I taught was entirely child-centered and did not take into account the needs of teachers at all. This was extremely energy draining and spirit crushing.

Radical unschooling for Catholics could mean eliminating punishment. A partnership paradigm between children and adults is still possible along with the understanding that the parent is under the authority of God and teaches her children accordingly. We can establish our authority without being authoritarian. Most of all, I think it means freedom for each member of the family to be who God has created him or her to be. And it means that all families are free to be who they are. Unscripted.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Believing in Unschooling, Part 3

It appears that there are indeed Catholic families who practice radical unschooling, and they are not so dissimilar in their philosophy from non-Christian, radical unschoolers. I admit, however, that the internal struggle is still there. I vacillate from feeling the JOY of embracing unschooling and the creeping FEAR of...I don't know--the unknown? Worry about what other people will think? Worry that it won't work, and my child will "fall behind"?

It is summer, which is the perfect time to practice unschooling, when the public schools are closed and most homeschoolers are taking a break from academics. But I don't want to spend the whole summer with the spectre of what will happen in the fall haunting the back of my mind. The most logical thing to do, it seems, is to go from the known to the unknown--a basic Montessori principle. I know that my whole family is more joyful, and all of the relationships in our home have already improved, since I have increasingly focused on the ideas Dayna Martin puts forth in Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun. Just the night before last, for instance, it was getting late, and Beezy decided to rearrange her dollhouse. At first I wanted her to hurry up and put the things away so she could go to bed, but then I added, "but take your time!" She went from looking discouraged to feeling grateful. I respected her need to be doing that project at that moment, and it didn't take her long to finish.

My background as a Montessori teacher provides not only a philosophical touchstone, but a practical one; that is, how exactly might one apply Montessori principles to unschooling? Here is how it worked:  Children in my classroom would be asked if they would like a "presentation" of a particular "work", and they were free to either accept or decline. Most of the time they happily joined in the lesson. I think this approach could be successful with homeschooling lessons as well. Children naturally want to be able to do the things that they see adults and other children doing, and they enjoy having the attention of their parents.

Take a goal I have regarding the Faith. I would like to instill a routine of morning prayers and an evening Rosary. I can simply let my husband and daughter know that I am going to do these things and invite them to join me. They can either accept or decline the invitation. I do agree with unschoolers that internal motivation is much more effective in the learning process and in accomplishing anything in life in general, than the threats of punishment or disapproval hanging over one's head. Montessori used the word seduce, which in Victorian times meant to entice the child to wish to participate. The teacher sits on the floor with a project she is obviously very interested in doing, and the children will flock curiously to her side.

What do you think? I think it's an experiment worth trying, not just for the sake of the children, but for the sake of families. What if radical unschooling (which in it's best form could be called mindful parenting) could bring back the family as God intends it to be, the foundation and bedrock of a healthy, loving, thriving, peaceful, mutually supportive society? Wouldn't it be nice? Yes, but I don't think it is merely something that would be just great but is already too lost to be retrieved from the rubble.  It is possibility.  It is freedom.  It is hope.

Friday, May 24, 2013

More Wabi-Sabi Photos

Today I documented our organic gardening process with my camera, so I'll get those photos ready soon, along with some basic information for using the raised beds. In the meantime, here are some more wabi-sabi photos from my small town homestead. Enjoy!

The statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus was handcrafted by a company online (don't remember the name offhand). It is attached to an upside down urn, as we get heavy winds in NW Ohio. The bird bath is from a garden center in Ft. Wayne, IN. The field stone came from our yard, which the previous owner used as natural garden borders. The empty pots now have something planted in them, which you will see in a future post.

This weathered bird feeder, from one of those home shows, hangs from the tree next to the brick patio where you see the statue and bird bath. This is a very popular stop for our feathered friends--a place to eat, drink, bathe, and rest...

 Bark worn off from much tree climbing!

fading lilacs

 Huge, rusted TV tower. Our home was built in 1908 of local field stone, with a terra cotta tile roof.

 Cool pattern left on the house after my husband tore out the poison oak. We all got the itchy rash, but at least I got a great picture!!

A bamboo wind chime from Dollar General, hung against the garage by Beezy.

 Next door neighbor's broken bird bath. She blamed our cat, but I don't believe it!!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Replacing Fear withTrust

I finished Dayna Martin's book, Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, this afternoon. It only took me three days to read, and I passed it on to my husband. Now I have begun to re-read Suzie Andres' A Little Way of Homeschooling: Thirteen Families Discover Catholic Unschooling. Dayna speaks of her spirituality in her book but does not mention practicing a particular religion. Yet there is a common theme running through both books, which is that of trust.  Fear of the future is something Dayna has observed in parents, and it paralyzes them from being authentic and living in the present. And of course Jesus teaches complete trust in him.

In the Al-Anon 12 Step program, FEAR is the acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.  What assumptions do we make about education, about children and parenting, based on the mainstream ideas embedded in our culture and with which most of us grew up? The traditional model is authoritarian, revolving around obedience and punishment. Dayna Martin insists that punishment of children is never necessary. Never. That thought alone is mind-blowing.

The mother of a teenage girl recently told me that her daughter struggles in school with algebra. It's the only subject in which she does not receive an A.  So is she failing this class? No, she is getting a B.  Heaven forbid! I have heard many similar stories. The pressure on kids to be perfect is fierce. And since we are trained in school and by mainstream parenting to derive our self-worth from the rewards and punishments of others, many adults never become autonomous, never learn to think for themselves, and forever depend upon the approval of someone else. When that is the case, the logical conclusion is that we fail to put our trust in God and to rely on his guidance alone. We can't believe in ourselves, either. We are perpetually crushed by the guilt of not measuring up to others' expectations, by the fear of making a mistake. Guilty simply for trying to be ourselves, the people God created us to be. The noise is so loud we can barely hear the voice of Divine Love calling us home.

Everything must be measured in mainstream thinking. When I worked as an esthetician at a day spa, there were "secret shoppers" who came in as customers and evaluated us. We did not get paid for that service unless the secret shopper granted a score of 100%!  I thought this was an unfair practice, and I told my manager as much. When I was secretly shopped, I got a perfect score. This was because I gave my best to every customer, out of internal motivation. The employees of this salon were not trusted to do their jobs well. If the motivation of the fear of being secretly shopped and punished for not measuring up really worked, then everyone would get a 100%, but they didn't.

Not being trusted is as insulting to children as it is to adults, because children are as fully persons as grown ups are. When people close to me did not trust me to be a good homeschooling parent, I was devastated. I was still relying on others for approval, and they were still functioning under an authoritarian mindset. If people are older, they think they know better, even when you grow up and have gray hair. They were never trusted, and so they can't trust you. No wonder society is so dysfunctional!

Fear, intimidation, coercion, and punishment don't work with children, and they don't work with adults. These tactics create power struggles, rebellion, and the killing of the human spirit. Dayna Martin, Suzie Andres, and other unschooling trailblazers are forging a better way, a path to joyful living and secure families. I don't agree with every position radical unschoolers take, nor do I think Dayna would expect anyone to.  She advocates following your own intuition, respecting the differences and uniqueness of others. She preaches authenticity and peace. Isn't this exactly what our suffering world needs?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wabi-Sabi in Nature

I got my new camera for Mother's Day, a Canon SX160 IS, and I love it! I began by taking some photos around my yard, porches, and outside of the house for examples of the wabi-sabi aesthetic. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of imperfect beauty, which has its roots in "the way of tea".  Shaza kissa means, "Well, sit down and have some tea." It's about simple elegance, hospitality, humility, and the transitional phases of nature--the moments of being tight in the bud or in the stage of fading and falling away.

Wabi-sabi is weathered, rusty, well-loved and well-worn. It is handmade. Wildflowers placed in a pottery container as they naturally would grow, rather than a precise arrangement of roses in a glass vase. It is vintage, not newly produced in a factory. Cobblestones, adobe, clotheslines, and flea markets. Wabi-wabi cannot be bought as a set in a store; it must evolve organically, which requires patience and time.

Wabi-sabi is not dirty and cluttered. There is a divine order to nature. Days have their own rhythm, and the cycles of birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth are honored. Pulling weeds by hand instead of killing with chemicals. Sleeping when we are tired and eating when we are hungry. Keeping things neat and clean but not sanitized with toxic chemicals. Reflecting and conversing over a cup of tea.  Listening.

What can you salvage rather than throw away? How does cotton feel against your skin, as opposed to polyester? What art might you create to decorate your home; what pictures made by your children could you frame? Chipped paint, crumbled plaster, frayed rope, cracked teacups--can you find the beauty in these? And when you gaze in the mirror, can you accept with love the wrinkles, the scars, the bulges, the crookedness?

Let your hair curl and frizz in the heat and humidity, as it is wont to do. Put your flat iron away. Wear linen, which looks great wrinkled. Don't just think outside the box--dance, dream, live and believe in some small way differently from usual every day. Let go of the need to control. There is a healing balm to be found in your own home and right in your own backyard--the embracing of the wabi-sabi way. Who can you welcome today?

School's Out! Now what?

Last Thursday I said to Beezy, "How would you like this to be the last day of school?" Of course she was all for it, so when we completed lessons I said, "Congratulations on finishing this school year. Thank you for being in my class." I shook her hand, and then she raised both fists in the air and shouted, "Outside forever!"  She had told me recently during a school day that she just wanted to be outside running around. I listened. I realized that even doing lessons on the upstairs balcony, with tree branches at arms' length and in the company of the sights and sounds of the outside world, was not enough to curb the feeling that she was missing out. In fact, I think that looking the little birdies in the eye made it worse. There are kittens across the street to visit, squirrels to chase, and toddlers in the neighborhood that want to play. Monday was running-in-the-sprinkler weather. So glad we were done with school!

So here is what we are up to. Yesterday we went to Farmer Jo Ann's for flowers, finally. Less than two weeks ago it got down to freezing over night! While practicing piano, Beezy told me she wished she had lessons every day. She has "written" her own song, and she loves experimenting with sounds on the electronic keyboard. Tuesday she has dog obedience class with Daisy for her 4-H project. Thursday we are going to the circus as part of her birthday, and we are taking a friend of hers who also has a May birthday. We will visit a science museum in Ft. Wayne with another friend this weekend, and then celebrate my grandma's 85th birthday at my cousin's house. The first week of June is Vacation Bible School, which is always a highlight of Beezy's year. The week after that, the pool will open.

As for summer reading, I had the brilliant idea of having Beezy choose her own picture books from the library, and it is working. She chooses to read them. We will do that every couple of weeks. I say this idea was brilliant because it was so obvious. She always picks out videos for herself, but never books. I had to suggest it, and there was a little resistance, but sometimes children do need a gentle push in the right direction. I'm going to find a little basket for her to keep them in.

Life just continues on, and we savor the unique pleasures and opportunities that each season brings. Hopefully the freedom from school lessons will help me to observe closely the ways in which learning happens in every moment of every day and is not separate from the rest of life. Then when fall comes, the shift into "school time" will be merely an organic segue into the next season, rather than an abrupt change. We will be truly unschooling.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogsense & Getting Personal

I visited with a priest today to make up a class I missed during RCIA on morals and conscience formation. I told him the difficulties I've had as a blog writer and the occasional negative feedback I have received. Despite my best intentions, sometimes people are offended, whether or not the post in question has anything to do with them. I have written two other posts directly related to the process of writing and maintaining a blog:  Blog Purpose and the Personal Essay (Nov. 9, 2011) and Blog Management & Comment Policy (Apr. 23, 2012). While I don't want to rehash old ground, I think a refresher on this topic would be helpful to readers. So please read the other posts first if you want the full picture.

The priest could relate to my blog writing conundrums, as he has had similar trouble with how people perceive him in a public forum. For example, he once told a joke about lawyers during a homily, and the mother of a lawyer was deeply offended. He never told a lawyer joke again! He did suggest that I keep writing. And now a story about him has appeared in my blog, though I haven't mentioned his name. This is the way it is. If you know me, or if I have read something you have written, or if you are a stranger in the grocery store that I encounter, you may find yourself as a character in this blog. This is where I write about my life, experiences, ideas, and views. It's a place where I reflect on issues, share information, and endeavor to provoke thought and to inspire. The literary genre I employ is the personal essay, which centers around a particular theme and extends from the personal to the universal.

Think about opinion pieces in newspapers, letters to the editor, life stories in magazines, and the content of advice columns. Sometimes real names are given, sometimes not. In any case, a person may read these things and recognize himself in the stories. The persons being written about are not typically consulted. Web pages and online magazines are no different. Even works of fiction contain the disclaimer that any similarity to real people is completely a coincidence; for the very reason that a writer, even of fiction, can only effectively write about something he knows. Fictional characters are drawn from real people, sometimes of a composite nature, but based in some way, shape, or form on nonfiction. In any art form, whether it be poem, painting, letter, novel, dance, or song, you can be sure that true life experiences are being expressed. You may not like how you look in the picture, but you may find your image on a gallery wall nevertheless. And it may or may not actually be you!

Country-pop singer Taylor Swift has a song called, "Dear John".  In a magazine interview, the writer told Taylor that John Mayer had publicly protested this song, which he claimed was about their relationship. Taylor's response? "How presumptuous!" This surprised me. I mean, his name is John, and she is singing about John. It must be about him, right? Then again, John is a common name, and she may have dated more than one. There is also the convention of a "Dear John letter", which stands for any romantic break up. I imagine that the song is likely both a reflection of a specific relationship and a ballad about heartbreak in general. It's about many boyfriends all at once, inspired most perhaps by the one named John (whether or not that is really his name). But most of all, it's about Taylor. That is the point often missed. 

This is also how it goes in a work of creative nonfiction, such as the personal essay. The specific becomes the general (or vice versa), one event triggers memories of others, and something new is born. Hopefully something poetic, sublime, gritty, honest, and real. I don't live in a vacuum. It isn't possible to write about my life without including the people that are in it, or have been a part of it. Considering that Organic Mothering has been viewed over 8,000 times, it is safe to say that most of my readers don't know me at all. But as long as someone is reading, I'll keep on writing.

All of Me

Pam Laricchia's post, Are You Playing the Role of "Mother"? on her blog, living joyfully with unschooling, really speaks to me. It reminds me of my own transition to motherhood and telling my mom that I wanted my life back. It took a long time to sink in what she was trying to explain to me, that this was my life now! I also think of the first conversation with my husband about homeschooling, which he thought was a good idea. I told him I certainly did not want to do that, because, "When she's five I want my life back." Famous last words.

I embraced motherhood, attachment parenting, and homeschooling. But I get what Pam is saying, that there is a tendency for women to separate "the real me" from the mothering role. Parents and children need time away from each other, people will insist (and sending one's kids to school will do the trick!). Mothers need to take time for themselves, the experts proclaim. And we do need time alone, to write, to pray, to dance, to dream. I have also done all of those things in the presence of my child, and with my child, and while doing housework. A woman's brain is designed for multi-tasking and is literally enhanced by becoming a mother. We don't want to overload and burn out, of course. Still, I find that when I am alone in my home, I don't need that much time to myself. I miss my husband and daughter.

What learning about unschooling is teaching me is to engage the present moment, to unplug and just be me, also allowing other family members to be themselves. I am not playing a role; I am having real life relationships. Children are not young forever. The message I kept hearing from other moms when Beezy was a baby was, "They are little for such a short time." I felt the deep longing of these women for those days. Maybe they let them slip through their fingers like so much sand. Maybe they felt intense regret. I heard the wistfulness in their voices, and I never forgot. Remember today what you don't want to regret tomorrow. Our mothering is wrapped up in our whole selves. There is no separation, only wholeness. Being a full-time mother is not a case of not having a life of your own. If this isn't your own life, whose is it?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Radical Unschooling

Today I bought Dayna Martin's Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun.  I found it on for about $10, a much more reasonable price than what was offered on Ebay and Amazon. It wasn't available from my public library system, and my husband is done teaching at the college where he works an hour away, from which library I sometimes borrow materials. I also want to get away from obsessively researching unschooling online. I want to ween from too much computer use, so I bought the book. I have read postings by Dayna online and watched some of her youtube videos, and now I wish to delve more deeply into the subject. While I certainly don't agree entirely with her parenting philosophy, I think she is definitely onto something, and she expresses herself well in writing.

Dayna is like other radical unschoolers who allow their children unlimited media access. I believe in protecting my child's innocence and guarding her spirit against evil, so I simply can't buy into this practice. All potentially educational resources are not created equal!  For example, reading engages the entire mind, while television actually shuts down certain areas of the brain. It may be true that a child can learn from anything. The problem is in the content and other issues that may be detrimental, such as addiction to TV or video games. It's similar with food. Some foods are addictive and harmful to the body, and to me it is irresponsible to give unlimited access to toxic substances to a child.

But putting those concerns aside for the moment, a post at really intrigued me, which was about unschooling vs. permissive parenting. She says that radical unschoolers are not neglectful parents and are in fact very "hands on" with their children. And she brought up attachment parenting and how she sees unschooling as an extension of this parenting style. From the beginning of Beezy's life, my husband and I practiced attachment parenting, especially as advocated by Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha, who are a pediatrician and nurse, respectively. We wore our baby in slings and other types of carriers, did not believe in the cry-it-out method of sleep training, practiced co-sleeping, fed her real, whole foods (rather than the baby food in packages), and she breastfed into the pre-school years. In fact, I coined the term, organic mothering (yes, this is my original idea!) to define and provide a continuation of attachment parenting principles for when children are older. That was the guiding force in beginning to write this blog in the first place, along with advertising my belly dance classes.

Dayna has also mentioned other terms to describe unschooling, such as organic learning. If I think of unschooling as a process by which families live in natural ways, with children learning organically through real life experiences, apprenticeships, lessons of their choosing, and via the role modeling of parents and other adults, then I am definitely an unschooler! Even during our formal "lesson time", the materials chosen are enjoyable to my child, and the Charlotte Mason methods that are used are gentle and not textbook bound. We go at our own pace, and the lesson time happens whenever it best fits into our day. Reading, writing, and math are covered, as well as living books on religious, historical, or science-oriented topics for narration. These provide the basic tools for learning about anything. The rest of the state's curriculum requirements can be covered via 4-H projects, piano lessons, and an unschooling lifestyle.

I am excited to read Dayna Martin's book and to get a more intimate picture of her family's lifestyle. While she and her husband are not Catholic homeschoolers, and therefore some of their choices may be in conflict with the Church's teachings on education, they still very obviously care deeply for each other and their children, and their goal is to live life in the fullest, most authentic ways possible, equally for both parents and children. My very favorite unschooling blog right now is called Clean., which is also not about a Christian family, but it is apparent that Rachel, the author, loves her life. I adore her photographs and was inspired to get a nice camera for Mother's Day so I can do something similar here.

We most likely are not going to find others who think and homeschool and parent exactly in the manner we do, so we can take what we like and leave the rest. When I really think about how I teach, there are many avenues to accomplishing education. Any learning being done must be done by the child, and this can happen when the home is a rich environment, when parents role model virtuous ways of living and when they follow their own passions, by the child's own discoveries and experiments, through asking and answering questions, during conversations, and by interactions in the community. And that is certainly not an exhaustive list! Guidance, role modeling, and facilitation are methods of teaching. One of the comments on Dayna's blog by a Christian mother was especially interesting, suggesting that she imagines unschooling to be the closest approximation to how people parented in biblical times.

That seems like enough food for thought for the time being. I will most certainly be reflecting on Dayna Martin's radical unschooling book in posts to come.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

When the Sky Falls

I find that I am not as strong sometimes as I think I am or wish to be.  In the book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie talks about learning not to be blown about by every wind.  Some days I am better at this than others.  There are those days when I feel very sensitive, when I can't withstand someone yelling at me, when I am deeply wounded by another.  Emotions are contagious, and we must be careful how we spread them.  We think we can't help how we feel, but feelings begin with thoughts, and thoughts we can learn to control.  We can think better, and therefore feel better.  I may not handle every situation in the best way, but I know that I have to pick myself back up and try again.  When I fail, I can acknowledge it and not beat myself up.  The best amends are in not repeating the same wrongdoing, even more important than saying, "I'm sorry."

If I fall apart and have a bad day, I can start over, at any moment of the day.  And every day ends.  There is always tomorrow.  When I was younger I had very bad PMS.  To others it sometimes seemed that I was overreacting to things, and maybe I was.  But I noticed that the things that upset me weren't directly related to my hormones.  They were often buried hurts and unhealed wounds or unresolved anger that I could not suppress at that time of the month.  It was a blessing in disguise that those feelings were permitted to come to the surface, to tap on my shoulder or to scream in my ear that they needed my attention.  Post traumatic stress lingers in the body, in our cells and marrow.  It can't heal without being shaken loose and exposed to the light of day.

Sometimes we are reacting not only to what is happening in the present moment, but to what is being triggered from the past.  That needs to be validated, by ourselves and by others.  What helps me to separate the wheat from the chaff is my child.  I focus on my own family, on our needs, first, seeking a calm in the center of the storm.  I see my husband and myself sometimes taking personal frustrations out on our daughter and on each other, and I can't stand it.  I see extended family members and other people do the same thing.  There are better, more joyful, more authentic ways to live.  I resolve to strive to be the change in the world that I wish to see.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Allowing Others Their Joy

May is one of the traditional months in which the Catholic Church especially honors the Virgin Mary. Recently on the homeschooling blog of another Catholic mother, the author invited readers to honor Mary on social media and gave permission to use her posts. One of these I shared on my Facebook wall shows a picture of a man praying before a statue of Mary, and the caption reads, "Ad Jesum Per Mariam." I translated the Latin phrase at the top of my post, "To Jesus through Mary!" This is an expression of my joy. Mary invited me to the Catholic Church, the very Church founded by her son, Jesus. She has sustained me through her intercession and spiritual presence in times of trouble and distress. Most importantly, she led this once lukewarm Protestant back to Jesus, and my Christian faith is stronger than it has ever been in my life. I owe this Holy Woman an undying debt of gratitude.

Unfortunately, a Facebook friend commented in a way that robbed me of my joy. I should not have allowed her to affect my feelings in this way, but the good that has come of it is that I have been meditating on the importance of allowing other people to express their joy, to not intentionally rain on their parade. I don't know what the exact intentions of this person were, so I am trying not to judge her. She implied in her comment on my FB wall that it is better to go to Jesus directly than through Mary, and she ended with, "Can I get an amen?" I felt like she was inviting others to gang up on me. This will hopefully help me to endeavor to follow the Golden Rule when using social media myself. To add insult to injury, two of my other friends "liked" her comment. What good can come of being a killjoy? Is the desire to be "right" worth the expense of alienating a friend?

Now, having been Protestant all my life until my forties, I understand that most Protestants are ignorant of the truth of Catholic teachings. They believe the errors and lies they have heard. (For that matter, many Catholics received poor catechesis and do not know their own faith well.)  It would have been fine to comment with something like, "I prefer to go directly to Jesus," thus opening up respectful dialog. Catholics are not required to go to Jesus through Mary, but there is a long tradition teaching that Mary IS the most direct route to Jesus. It is not a suggestion to worship Mary, but to allow her to be our spiritual mother, to ask for her prayers, instruction, and guidance, and to follow her pious example of discipleship.

This post is not intended to give an exegesis on Marian devotion, however. I don't care to argue theology. I care to argue for respect, sensitivity, and the withholding of unnecessary criticism and inflammatory comments, for the sake of true friendship and Christian unity. Especially if we don't know anything about the subject, and even if we do, it is often best to keep our opinions to ourselves, humbly seeking to understand through the Holy Spirit, leaning not unto your own understanding.

I saw a Facebook friend's joyful post about gains made toward "marriage equality" in the U.S.  I don't believe that gay people can be married under the definition of what marriage is, but I saw no reason to kill her joy, or to try to get others to back up my viewpoint on her personal space. I was also caught off guard seeing young girls wearing heavy makeup on posts from dance recitals, but again, these mothers were sharing their joy and pride in their children. And I understand that under certain circumstances makeup is part of the costuming.

So before you assume you understand and jump to bring someone down, think. Have a heart with Jesus living in it. We don't always have to share in the joy of others, but we have no right to burst the joyous bubble of our brothers and sisters on Earth and in Christ.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Catholic Homeschooling for May

Since May is traditionally a month to especially honor the Blessed Mother, it makes sense to incorporate Marian themes into our homeschooling. During our lesson time this afternoon, Beezy asked me if there was church today. She was disappointed when I told her no, saying, "But I wanted to have the bread and wine again." What fragrant balm this is for a mother's heart! I will take her to daily Mass on Wednesday morning.

At the time Beezy asked this question, she was doing her copy work from the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) prayer, said at the end of the Rosary. For narration, I am reading to her from St. Therese and the Roses (Ignatius Press), which includes Mary's visitation to St. Therese of Lisieux. This is a biographical novel and fits into the religion/history/literature categories. For reading, we are using Book Two of the American Cardinal readers, and the first story talks about Mary's birth and childhood. I read to Beezy from the Bible on the Transfiguration of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, and we prayed that Luminous Mystery of the Rosary. The only non-Catholic part of lesson time today was a "Time & Money" worksheet!

For summer I do want to continue to work on Beezy's reading, pray the Rosary daily, and go to Mass as much as possible. As a Catholic mother, I am increasingly realizing the importance of structured lessons that provide Faith formation while also supplying my child with the tools she will need to pursue her interests and goals in life, to learn to think for herself, and to express herself competently both orally and in writing. Direct teaching is necessary to Catholic homeschooling, even if there is a certain focus on facilitating child-led learning. With the Charlotte Mason/classical approach, there is plenty of time in the day for play, chores, socializing, projects, nature studies, handicrafts, conversations, dog walks, meals, etc., and even daydreaming. What is required is the balance brought about by discipline, which I suspect is going to be an upcoming series topic here at Organic Mothering, so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bouncing Back Gently

Thursday I had my big left toenail removed by an Irish Catholic podiatrist. Having had this surgery before, I knew that the four numbing needles jabbed into the toe would hurt, but the good doctor assured me that he had just done this same thing to two 12-year-olds, and they were fine! Good for them. When he started to stick me with the needles and realized that he was, indeed, hurting me, he began apologizing profusely for having lied to me! I assured him that he did not have to apologize, but he said he did, having grown up with nuns and learning to be sorry for lying. I'm not making this up.

Saturday I belly danced for the first time since the original injury. I had only gotten back into the swing of things for a few weeks after finally healing from throwing my back out, when I knocked the toenail partially out of its socket. I did this on my screened front porch while moving a wicker chair, and I yelled really loudly. So loud I was embarrassed and ran back into the house. I had to cancel two of my dance classes. Lack of exercise results in giving me the blues, so I felt my way out of the melancholy to begin to gently dance again. Just to cycle through a warm up, some gentle drilling of basics, dancing improvisationally to an upbeat song, and cooling down with yoga. Such regular practice is centering, energizing, and strengthening, increasing flexibility and a positive body image. Not to mention the actual health and beauty benefits.

It is difficult when we are aware of what our bodies and souls need, yet we aren't able to give those things to ourselves for whatever reasons. This is when I surrender and offer it up to God for the blessing of someone in greater need. There is a place for suffering in my life, and it can benefit someone else. My faith keeps me from wallowing in self-pity or giving in to deep depression. But therein lies another source of melancholy--the fact that I reached my major goal of joining the Catholic Church. Now that this has been accomplished, I can just be Catholic! There is that sense of let down, kind of like after the build up to Christmas. My daughter is so excited to go to church this evening and have her 2nd Holy Communion. We both waited so long, and now we have our heart's desire. What does one do after one has achieved her heart's desire? After the wedding comes the long years of marriage.

So begins the gentle bouncing back from the dark, cold days of winter. Finally, it feels like spring. We will have flower after flower come up in the yard for the entire growing season. Then the leaves will turn color, and eventually it will be winter once more. It can be easy to take the tulips for granted right now, to think ahead to days spent at the pool, lounging with a good book. Even thinking of summer frazzles me a bit, though, as I feel pressure to decide if we will suspend all school work, or keep doing reading lessons as we have been. Part of me wants to jump into unschooling and flow with the current, while another part thinks that more structure is what we need! Oh bother, as Winnie-the-Pooh would say.

I have to remind myself that life has been very busy, and it is natural to be tired as a result of planning for big days and being physically wounded. Keeping it simple is the order of the day. Rest is necessary for recovery, and on Sundays it is a religious requirement! So I am off to lounge on my upstairs balcony, maybe with a bowl of ice cream.